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How to be a green-fingered grandparent

2nd December 2014

This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.

Gardening is a fantastic hobby that brings generations together. Whether young or of the slightly silver generation, gardening can be a great past time that is both relaxing and rewarding.

For those who rely on indoor stairlifts, gardening is not off-limits! This guide looks to introduce you to the ways in which you can be a top green-fingered grandparent even with reduced mobility, either with your grandchild or as a way to keep your garden blossoming on your own.

Events

There are many great events around the country that can inspire your green-fingers. BBC Gardeners’ World Live is one such event that has reached national acclaim. Held at Birmingham’s NEC between June 16th and 19th, this event plays host to some of the biggest names in the gardening circuit with gardening celebrities such as Monty Don, Carol Klein and Jo Swift all making an appearance in 2016 in the Gardeners’ World Theatre talks.

There are a number of ‘Gardeners’ Zones’ where you can learn a range of horticultural tips from planting plants to attract wildlife to solutions for small gardens. There’s plenty on offer for those attending with the grandchildren or on their own and you’re sure to gather some inspiration for next year’s crop. 2016’s event also includes this year’s impressive show gardens including a charming canal boat garden, community garden and Capability Brown’s enchanted tea party  sure to spark your youngster’s imagination.

Publications

Next to events, publications offer fantastic garden ideas and advice for how to be a green-fingered grandparent. Amateur Gardening is one of the best, with regular features and tips relevant to all sorts of gardens and abilities. As Britain’s best–loved weekly gardening magazine they explain practical gardening techniques in easy to follow language and include clear pictures to illustrate the subjects.

They also include free seeds on the cover each week from February through to October. 

Here they have also provided us with an exclusive top tip for green-fingered grandparents.

Amateur Gardening’s Top Tip: “As light levels fall in the year, plants will perform better if moved to lighter areas in the home. Keep plants in rooms with a steady temperature, and make sure they are not placed directly above hot radiators, in front of open fires, in draughts or on windowsills on frosty nights.”

Gardening made easy

Don’t have the space for gardening? Rocket Gardens offer the perfect solution. Their Rocket Gardens are, quite simply, a garden in a box that can be delivered straight to your door.

If this article has already inspired you to don the gardening gloves and you want to get started straight away, Rocket Gardens is a quick way to start growing today. Delivering a box brimming with baby organic vegetables and herb plants that are ready for you to take care of and nurture, they save you time, back-breaking effort and the disappointment that can come when seeds fail to germinate.

So simple and easy, you can even order your Rocket Garden from the comfort of a riser recliner chair.

Charities and organisations

For those nervous to start pottering around in the gardening or looking for extra assistance and advice to start building that bond over gardening with their grandchildren, there are plenty of brilliant charities and organisations that can help in this area.

The National Allotment Society (NSALG) is the leading national organisation that protects the interest of the allotment community across the country. An allotment is a great way of getting into gardening for those who don’t have much of a garden to speak for, particularly those who live in a flat or shared housing, as it offers another way to enjoy a garden. The society help their allotmenteers acquire, maintain and manage their allotments and make for the perfect starting point for any green-fingered grandparent.

Thrive is another great charity which offers assistance to green-fingered grandparents as they help people with a disability start or continue gardening, believing passionately in the power of gardening and how it can change lives. Their website Carry on Gardening has a wealth of information on garden ideas as well as advice for gardeners with disabilities. Have a read of their top tips for disabled gardeners for some of their expertise and valuable advice.

“It is important for older people to continue gardening as it is food physical exercise and will keep people fit,” explains Thrive.

“The moves that people carry out in a gym can be replicated by gardening tasks. The energy used in some gardening tasks is as follows: digging is equivalent to 4.2w/kg or hand weeding is 2.6w/kg compared to jogging at 8.1 w/kg.

“It is important to appreciate that you may be less able than you used to be in the garden, and to lessen your expectations accordingly, however, but there have been great advances in tool design, and it may be worth choosing new tools that are ergonomically designed and made of lightweight materials.  Battery technology has improved and cordless tools are now light, powerful and safe.”

Otherwise, making adjustments to your garden can boost your confidence, making it safer to work in with the addition of handrails and leaning posts or by changing up paving materials to reduce slip.

“We believe that gardening can be made accessible to anyone, it is just a matter of making the right adjustments,” adds Thrive.

“Change areas of the garden that become too much to maintain, by using low maintenance shrubs, mulches, replacing hedges with fences and so on. Using a seat and long handled tools can be one way in which it can be possible to continue gardening if mobility is an issue.”

The National Gardening Association (NGA) is an American-based organisation that looks to improve garden-based education. They are a fantastic source of information for green-fingered grandparents looking to get their grandchildren involved in gardening and have a great range of resources and activities to try. They support kidsgardening.org which has some great advice specifically for little green fingers including, the Parents Primer which has a whole ten chapters on gardening with children. The NGA also offer some great projects for you to try out with your grandchildren including the article how to start an edible garden with your child, or in this case, grandchild.

Gardening with the grandchildren is a great bonding activity but it can also pose challenges for grandparents with reduced mobility. The Gardening for Disabled Trust is an inspiring organisation specifically aimed at older gardeners or those with a mobility disability, offering advice and information on how you can keep gardening comfortably. This voluntary organisation also provides grants to people across the country in order for them to carry on gardening as long as they wish.

Here is their top tip for the more mature grower: “The top tip for older gardeners is raised beds as they make gardening so much easier without having to reach down so far.”

Elsewhere, the charity Garden Organic shares a natural approach in the garden, believing that gardeners of all ages can help to promote a sustainable world through healthy organic growing.

Sarah from Garden Organic explains: “At Garden Organic we believe that the best option to protect our environment, health and wellbeing is to use organic growing methods. These harness the natural cycles to promote healthy and diverse plant growth. Toxic chemicals are bad for all life forms in the garden - from birds, bees and beetles, to you the gardener. Growing salads and veg without chemicals also means healthy eating.”

Garden Organic is also keen to promote the health encouraging benefits of gardening. Sarah adds: ”Research has shown that gardening is good for you - no matter what your age or ability. There is no doubt that being out of doors helps well-being. National health practitioners recognise the benefits of gardening in particular as a non-pharmaceutical way of alleviating many problems such as dementia, obesity and stress.  It provides exercise (active gardening is second only to weight lifting in encouraging bone density), it can help with recovery from stroke, or during invasive treatment for cancers. It helps with insomnia, and lessens stress.”

Working closely with Carers Trust at Ryton Organic Gardens neat Coventry, Garden Organic is also helping to keep this favourite hobby accessible for older people experiencing the early stages of dementia. Hosting special dementia-focused days, the partnership aims to make dementia care inclusive of the benefits that horticultural therapy can have on health and wellbeing. Garden Organic adds: “The days have been well received and everyone has said how much they enjoy being in and working in the garden.”

Garden Organic shares tips that green-fingered grandparents can adopt in their own gardens:

There are a number of measures older gardeners can adopt.

1. Keep your gardening simple and containable so you don't feel pressured by the amount that needs doing.  This can involve planting more perennials, such as shrubs, which require little maintenance.  Creating raised beds gives a sense of order and defined areas that need attention.

2. Perhaps adapt your garden design, so that paths are wider (easier to use a stick, walking frame or wheelchair) and borders narrower. 

3. Plan for wild areas.  Not only do they require less maintenance, but they bring the benefits of nesting habitat for wildlife - from ladybirds to butterflies, hedgehogs and birds.

4. Leave your grass long (you only need to mow the paths) and watch the butterflies come to feed on the grasses and flowers.

5. To keep on top of weeding, use organic mulches (thick layers of compost, wood chippings or straw) to suppress weeds and feed the soil. 

6. Place water butts, buckets and watering cans at frequent intervals, to save walking back and forth. 

7. Encourage any younger people to join you in the garden. Your experience and knowledge will be matched by their energy and strength!
 

For further inspiration, no organisation comes as well reputed as that of the Royal Horticultural Society. Their website, rhs.org.uk, is full of advice, events and gardens to visit with none better than RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey.

“RHS Garden Wisley is the flagship garden of the Royal Horticultural Society and one of the finest gardens in the world. For over 100 years, since it was presented to the RHS by Sir Thomas Hanbury, Wisley has been a centre of gardening excellence, with RHS members and other visitors benefitting from the knowledge and experience of RHS experts. Wisley captures the imagination with richly planted borders, luscious rose gardens and a state-of-the-art Glasshouse,” they explain.

“The garden is 240 acres and has one of the largest plant collections in the world, with close to 30,000 plant varieties. The expertly designed & lovingly tended gardens are accompanied by a Plant Centre with an extensive range of plants, a Gift Shop with the largest collection of RHS publications in the country plus fresh Wisley grown produce at the heart of the Taste of Wisley Food Hall, Restaurant and cafes. Family activities and seasonal events throughout the year provide visitors of all ages with an exceptional day out.”

As the foremost organisation in gardening in the UK, the RHS provides expert one-to-one tips and advice to its members but if you haven’t quite gotten around to signing up yet, its online profiles offer guidance for gardeners of all different skill and ability levels. Older gardeners with young helpers might find the low maintenance gardening guide useful.

As identified in RHS’s Gardening matters: Urban gardeners report, they explain: “Horticulture is show to provide physical and mental benefits. Even those without the ability to garden benefit from the ‘mental restoration’ of seeing the natural environment, something the man made does not.”

For grandparents RHS recommends knowing your limits, avoiding tasks that could become potentially risky with age – such as hedge cutting up a ladder. Instead, older gardeners could follow a ‘little but often approach’ to maintaining their outside space as it’s great at keeping you physically and mentally active. Simply sitting in the garden offers benefits but their adaptations you can make to make your gardening more manageable as you get older. For instance, raised beds offer a low maintenance planting option and if your grandchild is older, you could ask them for support when it comes to tackling the bigger, more strenuous tasks.

They add: “Plan ahead. Often gardens turn to rack and ruin as the years advance. Think about managing a retreat by planting more shrubs that will cover the ground; be of a suitable size (so minimise pruning); and provide colour without lots of work.”

Other ways to enjoy the garden

If getting out in the garden really has become impossible, there’s still plenty of ways to share the joy of horticulture with your grandchildren in the comfort of your home.

  • Colourful plant pots cheer up a room and allow you to bring a bit of the natural world inside and indoors you can still scale down and switch to containers to plant seeds.
  • As mentioned, visiting stately home and gardens offers the chance to see some of the country’s best blooms without putting in the hard work yourself.
  • Why not hold a ‘working’ garden tea party, asking neighbours, friends and family to pitch in with the garden in exchange for tea and cake.
  • On that note, you can still teach your grandchildren a thing or two when it comes to traditional jam making or otherwise using the fruits of your garden in the kitchen. Get them to pick ripe produce and set to work with the conserves, chutneys and crumbles.
  • Building your own ‘bug hotel’ together should go down with little fans of creepy crawlies and also attract beneficial predators to ward off aphids and other pests. Simply place an old wooden box sideways up in a sheltered corner of the garden and layer with bundles of hollowed stems to make an appealing nest for insects.
  • Likewise plant-themed crafts should keep younger gardeners entertained on wet and windy days. You could teach them how to make a wreath with what they find in the garden or arrange some flowers to take home to mum.

If nothing else, simply taking the time to sit, relax and take in the view is another way to enjoy your garden. Make sure you watch out for seasonal wildlife such as visiting birds. 

Raised garden beds and activity packs are just some of the ways that you can be a green fingered grandparent without putting your health or mobility at further risk. If you are struggling to continue with your hobby as a result of reduced mobility or poor health be sure to consult your doctor who may be able to offer some advice by way of mobility aids or exercises.

Image Credit: BBC Gardeners’ World Live, Amateur Gardening, Rocket Gardens, National Allotment Society, Carry on Gardening Thrive, National Gardening Association, Gardening for Disabled Trust, RHS / Clive Nichols.